Molecular phylogeny of plethodonine salamanders and hylid frogs: statistical analysis of protein comparisons

Mol Biol Evol. 1991 Nov;8(6):796-818. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a040691.


The bootstrapping method of determining confidence in the topology of phylogenetic trees has been applied to electrophoretic protein data for two groups of amphibians: salamanders of two North American genera (Aneides and Plethodon) of the tribe Plethodontini and Holarctic hylid frogs. Some current methods of phylogenetic reconstruction for electrophoretic protein data have been evaluated by comparing the trees obtained from molecular data sets with available morphological data. Molecular data on the phylogenetic relationships of Aneides and Plethodon, data obtained from electrophoretic and immunological studies, indicate that Aneides probably was derived from western Plethodon subsequent to the separation of eastern and western Plethodon. Thus Plethodon very likely is a paraphyletic genus. The extremely low rate of morphological evolution in Plethodon compared with that in Aneides causes difficulty in indicating their evolutionary relationships taxonomically because there are no synapomorphic morphological characters that define either eastern or western Plethodon, whereas there are several for the genus Aneides. Thus molecular data alone probably indicate the evolutionary relationships of the species in these genera. Highton and Larson's (1979) arrangement of species of Plethodon into eight species groups is supported. The topologies of the unweighted pair-group method using arithmetic means (UPGMA) and distance Wagner trees were compared with independent morphological and molecular data on the relationships of the 28 plethodonine species. It was found that UPGMA trees indicate relationships that are more in agreement with other information than are those provided by distance Wagner trees. The use of the bootstrap technique indicates that the topologies of UPGMA trees are better supported statistically than are the topologies of distance Wagner trees. Moreover, different addition criteria produce a variety of distance Wagner trees with different topologies, each with several groupings that are not supported statistically. It is concluded that considerable caution should be used in interpreting the topology of distance Wagner trees. Very similar results were obtained with a second data set on 30 taxa of Holarctic hylid frogs. Trees obtained by the neighbor-joining method are more in agreement with UPGMA phenograms and other data, so this method of phylogenetic reconstruction may be useful to systematists not willing to assume constant rates of evolution.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Anura / classification
  • Anura / genetics*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Isoenzymes / genetics
  • Phylogeny*
  • Proteins / genetics*
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Urodela / classification
  • Urodela / genetics*


  • Isoenzymes
  • Proteins